Employer alert: If you run a nonprofit or business of any size, make sure to comply with new anti-harassment training requirements by year-end 2020. Just over a year ago, this new requirement was signed into law, as an amendment to the Illinois Human Rights Act. All Illinois employers of any size must now provide annual sexual harassment prevention training and maintain related records reflecting compliance.
Sexual harassment in the workplace can cause significant deleterious effects for both employees and employers. Employees who experience sexual harassment may suffer from a hostile work environment, related emotional harm, adverse impact on work opportunities, and even job loss. Employers may face reduced productivity and potential legal liability for wrongful acts of their employees or other agents.
The State of Illinois has responded affirmatively to this critical issue through this new law. Correspondingly, the Illinois Department of Human Rights (“IDHR”) has provided resources to help employers meet this new requirement, including a model training program, available online at no cost. Alternatively, employers may develop their own sexual harassment prevention training program. An organization’s staff or a hired third party may provide the training, so long as the training program provided meets or exceeds the legally required minimum standards for sexual harassment prevention training. Our law firm is also available to provide such training, as are many human resources consulting organizations, particularly to address client-specific concerns and contexts.
The minimum anti-harassment training standards include the following:
- an explanation of sexual harassment consistent with applicable law;
- examples of conduct that constitutes unlawful sexual harassment;
- a summary of relevant federal and state statutory provisions concerning sexual harassment, including remedies available to victims of sexual harassment; and
- a summary of employer responsibilities in the prevention, investigation, and corrective measures of sexual harassment.
All employees, including seasonal workers, part-time staff and interns, must be trained. Even independent contractors working onsite with staff should receive sexual harassment prevention training. For new hires, employers can and should request documentation that the employee has received legally compliant training elsewhere. If such documentation cannot be produced or there is a question as to whether a prior training meets the minimum standards, the new hire should be retrained. Further, new hires should be trained (or retrained) as soon as possible, since employers may be held liable for any sexually harassing conduct in which a new employee engages.
The IDHR’s published guidance also sets out record-keeping requirements. Employers are required to keep a record of all trainings. Records may consist of a certificate of completion, signed employee acknowledgment, or course sign-in sheet. Whichever form they take, records should be readily accessible. Upon IDHR request, employers will be required to produce records demonstrating all employees have been trained. Employers that fail to comply with the training mandate can expect a formal “notice to show cause” for their noncompliance, as well as civil penalties if the noncompliance is not corrected within 30 days.
As employers look toward year-end 2020, now is the time for legal compliance and consideration for new training protocols. Employers should remain vigilant and continually attentive to sexual harassment issues that may arise, for optimal work environments and reduced liability risks.